SERIES: A Month in the Life of a Professional Sustainability Change Agent

Starting today, I begin a one-month blogging/tweeting/documentation intensive. I will be writing about my work — what I actually do, what I’m hearing and seeing and experiencing, and (some of) my reflections about that. Why?

Partly, it’s motivated by my interactions with students and trainees. I’ve been teaching an online course this month, some other workshops and classes are upcoming as usual, and I lecture now and again at local universities. The university students especially, but also the older trainees, always seem to want to know more details about what I’m actually doing — and more specifically, why I’m doing it. A few friends, some of my neighbors, and even some of my closest work colleagues want to know more.

So I am going to try an experiment in documentation. It’s awkward:  I am of two minds about this whole internet/blogging/tweeting thing. On the one hand, it seems like pure narcissism, and/or an invasion of my privacy. On the other, it increases transparency and contributes to the “hive mind” that I heard several speakers on social innovation talk about today. *Not* sharing some of experiences I am privileged to accrue seems ungenerous, because some of them might provide benefit to others working in this field. Sharing them seems egoistic. But I’ll stop the Hamlet-like ambivalence right here: here comes a flood of words.

Today seemed like a good day to start. My focus is going to be on my professional assignments, and today’s assignment — moderating the closing session of the Nobel Laureate-focused “Stockholm Dialogue on Global Sustainability” — was a joy. You can download the program (and eventually watch the video) here:

The whole event actually surpassed my expectations — meaning, I left feeling stimulated, with some new thoughts, some new inspiration. There were some lovely moments, such as watching physicist Murray Gell-Mann — who won his Nobel in Physics back in the 1960s! — napping through the talks until it was his turn to speak, and then wowing everyone with wisdom, charm, and humor. He painted a picture of genuine and serious complexity, and yet did it with simple words. Asked by the other moderator, Johan Kuylenstierna, how we could possibly address all these problems, Gell-Mann said, “Well, I can tell you!” And he did. He told the anecdote of a famous French academic who had been at the World Bank, but who then decided to write a set of books about the global challenges. He wrote 21 such volumes, said Gell-Mann … but he never once mentioned how they linked together! “We’ve got to stop omitting that step!”

[Of course, I loved it that he said that, because that’s exactly what I say in our ISIS workshops. The first “S” in ISIS stands for “System,” and in my experience, that’s exactly the step in the planning process that is most often, and most disastrously, skipped.]

It would be dull, perhaps, to report further highlights, when they are all there on video. And in writing these blog posts, I’ll try not to repeat my Tweets. Instead I’ll tell you about lunch.

It was in the beautiful upstairs room at “Dramaten,” the Royal Theater of Stockholm, and it was the usual buzz of networking. I managed a short-but-wonderfully intense conversation with Janine Benyus (don’t miss her wonderful speech, it was such a pleasure to introduce her), on some professional matters of common interest (now you see how I’m going to deal with the fact that some of my work is covered by confidentiality agreements). I saw my good friend Sander van Der Leeuw, who runs the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University, where I did the Resilience 2011 keynote earlier this year. (Video available here.) Former colleagues of my wife, who also works in sustainability, introduced themselves, and — as I do several times a day now, it seems — I apologized for not remembering people’s names, etc. Mike Schragger, my good friend and a strategic partner here in Sweden, and also technically my client today (he’s the one who recruited me to moderate, and his Foundation for Design and Sustainable Enterprise is paying the invoice, so that makes him a client), seemed very happy with the outcome, as did the team at Stockholm Environment Institute and Stockholm Resilience Center, the two linked-but-separate institutions that organized, mostly, this whole shebang.

And navigating around in that social beehive, I met someone who might even become a client in the future. That’s how this work works, you might say. One thing leads to another. Some clients come in through the website, actually. They surf, they find us, we have the background and experience and expertise they need, and they call or write. But others come through other doors, including referral, or from having read something somewhere (including my books), or — as today — from watching one of us in action.

The afternoon continued with workshops, Bill Clinton coming to a gala tonight … but I went home. I walked back to the bus station via the Stockholm waterfront, ate an ice cream cone lunch, and let my mind rest.

Song I’m thinking about: Jim Kweskin’s “Relax Your Mind” …

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